Food for Thought: Making Colorful Predictions

May 18, 2007 - 12:41

Every year, the New York-based Color Association of America predicts or, maybe more correctly, establishes what colors will be important in fashion, home décor and even manufacturing two years from now. For all practical applications, color forecasting is more of an emotional rather than rationale process; it has almost nothing to do with logic, according to USA Today.

The end result determines sofa colors at Crate & Barrel, the latest prom dress colors at the mall and even what color bedding plants will be popular among consumers. USA Today points out it also has nothing to do with anointing one “hot” color; it is about establishing a palette of multiple color combinations that will be used by many industries.

The inspiration for color trends is found in many places, including everything from nature to graffiti. Uncovering these trends is a thoughtful process. Typically, it’s a pavement-pounding, globetrotting activity based on real research. The color association committee members hit the road each year for as many as 110 days each, chronicling what’s new and trendy around the globe in color, stated USA Today.

The Color Association then meets and, in an elaborate, interactive series of presentations, shows its forecasts and the inspiration behind them. USA Today reports that this involved artistic process culminates with establishment of the associations’ color forecast two years out.

This process may be beyond us mere mortals, but the important message is everything that surrounds us in our personal and professional lives is influenced to some extent by these predictions. See Figure 1, above, for the association’s forecast for the next few years.

Incorporating color trends into your product offerings, advertising and marketing programs raises the level of sophistication and effectiveness and sets you ahead of your competition.

SIDEBAR

Keep A Flexible Schedule

The nation’s largest private employer and retailer, Wal-Mart, is trying a new system to schedule its employees: Designed by Kronos Inc. to increase productivity and customer satisfaction, it is intended to better match the number of workers with the number of customers in a store. Wal-Mart began implementing the new system for some workers, including cashiers, last year, and now Payless Shoes, Radio Shack and Mervyns are considering similar systems.

The system tracks individual store sales, transactions, units sold and customer traffic in 15-minute intervals over seven weeks and compares data to the prior year’s before scheduling workers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Companies that use such programs can be more assured the number of staff on hand will fluctuate along with customer traffic.

The Wall Street Journal points out staffing is an area where more companies are trying to control costs, increase efficiency and maximize customer service. Tighter scheduling lets the retailer better serve the customer by shortening checkout lines. In Wal-Mart test stores that used the system last year, 70 percent of customers said the checkout experience had improved, according to the Wall Street Journal. Though, while there are many benefits of the new systems for retailers and customers, some people feel workers may have to work around unpredictable schedules and reduced hours.

For people in the plant business, one of the biggest complaints we hear about Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart in the spring is that it takes too long for customers to checkout. Imagine the sales being missed due to this customer frustration at the register. How many opportunities for increased sales are lost because no one is available to answer questions or direct the customer? For those providing merchandising, could this flex scheduling help maximize sales and customer service?

The nation’s largest private employer and retailer, Wal-Mart, is trying a new system to schedule its employees: Designed by Kronos Inc. to increase productivity and customer satisfaction, it is intended to better match the number of workers with the number of customers in a store. Wal-Mart began implementing the new system for some workers, including cashiers, last year, and now Payless Shoes, Radio Shack and Mervyns are considering similar systems.

The system tracks individual store sales, transactions, units sold and customer traffic in 15-minute intervals over seven weeks and compares data to the prior year’s before scheduling workers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Companies that use such programs can be more assured the number of staff on hand will fluctuate along with customer traffic.

The Wall Street Journal points out staffing is an area where more companies are trying to control costs, increase efficiency and maximize customer service. Tighter scheduling lets the retailer better serve the customer by shortening checkout lines. In Wal-Mart test stores that used the system last year, 70 percent of customers said the checkout experience had improved, according to the Wall Street Journal. Though, while there are many benefits of the new systems for retailers and customers, some people feel workers may have to work around unpredictable schedules and reduced hours.

For people in the plant business, one of the biggest complaints we hear about Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart in the spring is that it takes too long for customers to checkout. Imagine the sales being missed due to this customer frustration at the register. How many opportunities for increased sales are lost because no one is available to answer questions or direct the customer? For those providing merchandising, could this flex scheduling help maximize sales and customer service?

Creating A Sensory Experience

Retail stores lure customers to shop and spend in a variety of subtle ways, so they don’t know what’s happening to them or their wallets. A recent article in USA Today states that retailers know how consumers will approach stores, where they’ll hesitate, how to affect their moods, how to pique their desires and how to play to their aspirations, which means everything in a store (lighting, aroma, décor and more) is meant in some way to get customers to spend.

For instance, a Sony Style store pumps a vanilla and mandarin orange scent on shoppers, hoping to make them feel relaxed. Additionally, hoping to make consumers buy, everything in the store is designed to encourage touch, from the silk wallpaper to the maple wood cabinets, to the etched-glass countertops, according to USA Today. Other retailers might not have signature scents, but they use different fragrances in different ways, such as baby powder in a baby store, sun tan lotion with bathing suits, and cinnamon and pine during the holiday season.

A store’s entrance is also an important factor in enticing consumers: A J.C. Penny store has a “decompression” area at the front to let shoppers get acclimated to being in the store, according to USA Today.

Even music is being used in new ways to affect customers: Music systems now allow different types of music to be played at different times of the day. There is even “zoning” of music, which means different stores play different music to cater to each store’s demographic.

The bottom line is how shoppers move around a store is really not up to them. USA Today states customers are funneled from the store entrance past its most expensive goods through a maze of aisles and into departments that are set up as stores with-in a store.

You should be taking all of this into consideration when developing displays. Make sure the must-have, staple items are positioned in the right place as well as the impulse items. Use color, scent and more to create the perfect customer experience. There is so much more to merchandising plants than rolling a rack up to the store!

Ace Is The Place

Although the demise of smaller, mostly individually owned retailers has been predicted for years, there is one organization that has been able to hold its own and actually grow and prosper in the big box climate: Ace Hardware. While having enough critical mass (4,600 locations) to compete with the likes of Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, Ace differs because the company is a retailer-owned cooperative.

The 83-year-old chain reported record-setting annual sales for 2005, which was the largest sales gain since 1998, and opened 131 new stores the same year. The company states its retail sales top $13 billion annually, and the Associated Press (AP) reported Ace has outpaced both Lowe’s and Home Depot in same-store sales growth in five of the last six years. So how does an organization that was supposed to be “run out of town” by the boxes survive and actually prosper?

The answer is simple: The company emphasizes customer service and convenience. “We come to work everyday on behalf of the customer and our entrepreneur store owners,” Ray Griffith, Ace president and CEO since 2005, told the AP. “We have a chip on our shoulders about the big boxes, and we like that. We like being the underdog. America loves an underdog.”

While the big boxes rule when it comes to the lowest prices and largest product selection, Ace is the place for customer service, convenience and best store aesthetics. With one or more owners or family members in the aisles, Ace locations provide caring, knowledgeable customer service that far exceeds what big boxes are able to provide.

Just imagine what the shopping experience and product sales would be if the big boxes could just reproduce the same type of customer service, convenience and associate product knowledge in the garden center aisles!

The Nose Knows

In a sign of how marketers are making use of scent in their advertising, Kraft Foods sponsored a special holiday issue of People magazine where five out of 31 ads featured a spot that readers could rub and experience the product’s smell. For instance, a full-page ad for Philadelphia Cream Cheese showed strawberry cheesecake that, when rubbed, gave the dessert’s scent.

Marketers see the addition of scent as a way of making ads stand out. It can be a powerful promotional tool because it transports people out of their current states to more desirable ones, as shown by a marketing study conducted by Georgia State University. Marketers are also looking for ways to use scents and odors in store aisles. Kraft is spending millions of dollars on promotion that includes scent.

The floriculture industry has a product with free built-in scent. Shouldn’t we be able to figure out how to maximize and capitalize on this aspect of promotion that other industries consider extremely important?

 

About The Author

The Visions Group LLC is a solutions group providing marketing, management and production assistance to the green industry. The group can be reached at (440) 319-2458.

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